Like my previous guidees, Janice, Dawn, and Maureen had already done some basic Valley birding before going out with me, but it sounded like a lot of the back country birds would be new, so we opted to reverse our original itinerary and do La Sal del Rey first! Things looked good when we picked up a White-tailed Kite at a stop light on the way up! Just before the Brushline turnoff we spotted a Caracara feasting on a rather large road kill!
Even though it was quite windy to start, things were chirping right at the start of the road, so we got out and bagged a Bewick’s Wren right away, along with some Cardinals. Pyrrhuloxia was big on the want list, and I was hearing them, but they just didn’t want to cooperate until we got back into the car, crept down, and then the male gave us a lovely look from the car! Orange-crowned Warblers and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers would brave the wind to come out pishing, and Lark Sparrows would pose in the brush (at least until a Cooper’s Hawk blasted in and broke up the party)! A White-tailed Hawk sat in lousy light against a pole, but we later got a great look at one in flight that was hanging with some Turkey Vultures! Caracaras were all over as well, and another wish came through for the girls when a Harris’ Hawk flew up on a pole and posed for pictures! Just before SR 186 one of the ag fields had several American Pipits in it along with some Western Meadowlarks.
Orange-crowned Warbler (also below)
Male Red-winged Blackbirds hangs with the ladies...
Closer look at the males (the one on the right is an almost-adult)
The road north of 186 was quite productive: we came across a small dead snake, and Janice used a nifty little app called Seek – by taking a picture the thing ID’d it right away as a Texas Rat Snake! Shortly after that a couple of “herpers” from the Gladys Porter Zoo wheeled by and actually collected the thing (and confirmed the ID)! He also mentioned they had come across a road-killed Bobcat, so we wondered if that’s what the Caracara was dining on along FM 490!
We come across a road-killed Texas Rat Snake
Janice uses "Seek" to ID it...
...while a herp expert from the Gladys Porter Zoo just happens to wheel by and confirm the ID before collecting it!
A little further on Janice had just started her PBJ sandwich when her life Roadrunner appeared on the road ahead of us! Then one of the gals spotted something big coming through the trees that turned out to be a huge flock of Sandhill Cranes that actually wheeled low overhead! Closer to Tres Presas Ranch we got a Cactus Wren to practically sit on the car, and a pair of Black-throated Sparrows gave great views! Two "turkeys" graced us: some colorful-headed Wild Turkeys running into the brush, and a brilliantly red-headed Turkey Vulture sitting on some dead wood in the sun! But the real prize was up at the farm pond: a little bunting that I assumed was an Indigo at first turned out to be a female-type Painted Bunting! The funny thing was that a Pyrrhuloxia was following it around (the only time I ever scolded a Pyrr to get out of the way J)! The pond itself had some nice things to pad the list with (a pair of young spoonbills, both grebes, Pintail, stilts, Least Sandpipers, and other ducks), and another Harris’ Hawk posed right by the car! We were so engrossed with him that we almost missed the huge Indigo Snake crossing the road! The hawk then flew over to the opposite side and looked as though he was pondering whether to take it on or not…
Flyover Sandhill Cranes (the higher whistling sounds are made by young birds)
Common Ground Dove
Harris' Hawk in an interesting pose...
...perhaps eyeing this Indigo Snake!
Several shots of the female-type Painted Bunting, a rare bird in the winter!
We picked up the pace as we wanted to give Estero Llano Grande SP some fair time, so we headed back down and over by way of Ken Baker Road, but we ended up hitting the brakes for a few things, most notably another Roadrunner! He went into the brush, but after messin’ with him for awhile I gave up as he apparently stayed in the brush, but as we continued on I suddenly noticed that he had taken up sentry duty in the tree! We got wonderful looks as he preened! We had a couple of Fuertes’ Red-tailed Hawks along Ken Baker, and we were almost to the little marsh on Rio Beef when a few Bobwhite scurried across the road! Some of them actually showed themselves for the girls!
We couldn’t pass up the 1015 Pond since we were going right by it! We wheeled in, and as Janice was getting into the PBJ sandwich again, her life Mottled Duck decided to take off and land on the other side of the pond! J We padded the list with Ring-necked Ducks, a calling Sora, and a Green Kingfisher, then headed on.
Checking out the 1015 Pond
We sent Janice on ahead once we arrived at Estero (she opted not to use the bushes along Brushline), but as we three remaining girls headed in, a lovely Buff-bellied Hummingbird fed at the feeder near the office! (Janice missed that one, of course… L) We spent extended time on deck, enjoying all the ducks, egrets, and ibis, and had a good enough look at one of the Plegadis ibis to comfortably call it a White-faced (which was more exciting to the gals from New Jersey, anyway J). We found a Cinnamon Teal in Avocet Pond, and while two of the gals were doing something else, a pair of White-tailed Kites wheeled in the distance!
With namesake White Ibis
We spent about 15 minutes at the feeders and enjoyed an ice cream, but nothing came in but Chachalacas, so we headed towards Alligator Lake. We checked out all the ducks at Dowitcher Pond and added the wintering Spotted Sandpiper that always seems to be there, but this time the dark ibis closest to us turned out to be the continuing Glossy, giving us great looks at his white-outlined dark face and dark eye! Grebe Marsh had both grebes along with some teal and Shovelers, and the night herons were back at Alligator Lake, along with an Anhinga! We continued on to find the Pauraque when one of the gals noticed that someone had drawn an arrow in the sand and created a “stick arrow” as well, which pointed right to the bird! That was nice of them!
On the boardwalk
The wintering Glossy Ibis, told from the White-faced by the slate-colored face and dark eye
Female Blue-winged Teal
Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Shooting the herons
The famous Pauraque
Note the arrows on the ground!
Grebe Marsh has both Pied-billed Grebes...
...and Least Grebes!
After checking out the overlook (and being wowed by Big Mama Gator – it’s so fun to calmly say, “Oh, there’s your alligator,” and watch your guidees lose it! J) we headed back and found an immature hawk at Dowitcher Pond that was in horrible light, but was really a puzzle: superficially it looked like a juvie Gray Hawk but the face wasn’t as contrasting as I would expect, and while there was some spotting on the breast, there wasn’t a lot. Janice got a nice photo, so once back at the car she used her “Seek” app on it, and according to that, it was a Gray Hawk! However, after posting my horrible pictures on the RGV Birding Facebook page, a pale immature Red-shouldered Hawk was suggested, which actually made more sense…
Big Mama Gator
Lousy picture of what proved to be a young Red-shouldered Hawk
White Ibises showing off
We decided to swing through the Tropical Zone by way of the trail in back of the VC, scaring up a bunch of Inca Doves at the feeders in the process! Some “dark” ibis were in the back side of Ibis Pond, but in the wonderful afternoon light his red eye was very obvious! The Screech Owl that allegedly hangs out in that white shack wasn’t home (I have yet to see it there, actually), but almost immediately after one of the gals voiced a desire to see an Armadillo, guess what popped up! They were rooting around and came quite close to us (not surprisingly, as apparently they don’t see too well…)! That started a discussion about the idea of their spreading leprosy if handled, and a Google search on the way home showed that was indeed the case – no Urban Legend there!
White-faced Ibis - note the lavender face and red eye, as opposed to the Glossy Ibis
We ended the day with an impressive 92 species! Bird list:
Blue-winged TealCinnamon Teal
Common Ground Dove
Great Blue Heron